Sunday, December 30, 2012

After-Christmas Letter, 2012

Dear friends and family,

If you noticed our lack of annual Christmas card this year, don’t be alarmed. While the rest of New England was dreaming of a white Christmas, we were privileged to spend a week in the sunny Caribbean when Don took our whole family on a cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas. We snorkeled off the Coast of Grand Cayman, rode horses in Jamaica, sunned ourselves on the beautiful beaches of Labadee, Haiti, and enjoyed the incredible food and swimming pools on the ship. It was quite the Christmas gift!

Don put in many hours of overtime this year in preparation for our grand vacation. He works as a software developer by day and coaches gymnastics in the evenings. We are continuing to plan and save with the eventual goal of owning our own gymnastics facility. Manda also joined the fitness world this year by turning our family’s love of Beachbody products into a business as an Independent Team Beachbody Coach. She provides online fitness coaching and blogs about her health journey at In addition to her regular workouts, she and Donny ran a 5k together in April!

At 14 months old, Abby is full-fledged toddler who empties cupboards and snuggles her teddy bears, or “buhbise.” Her favorite word is “up,” but she also says Mumma, Dada, buhbye, and no, and signs for milk and more. Lydia is an active 3.5 year old who loves learning letters and playing the Mumma to her baby dolls (and often her siblings as well!).
The boys are now doing third grade homeschool work - our curriculum this year is called Exploring Countries and Cultures, so we are all learning some world geography. The boys also participated in a Junior Lego League this fall. Six year old Hayden started gymnastics this year and learned to swim underwater this summer, while Donny is passionate about collecting coins, studying science, and reading Boxcar Children books. We celebrated Donny’s 8th birthday on 12/12/12 - it is hard to believe how quickly all of the children are growing up!

After a few months of hunting, our family joined a small new church. We are excited to be using our gifts there, including Don’s launch of a new youth group for teens. Manda has been participating in the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group as well as some online Bible studies. It is a blessing to be part of a community of believers who are passionate about God and demonstrate compassion for people.

As we head in 2013, we do not know what the year will hold, but we are excited to see where God will lead us as we strive to follow His will for our lives. May He bless you and your family this year!


Don, Manda, Donny, Hayden, Lydia, and Abby

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Overflowing with Thankfulness

For anyone who may have wondered...yes, my family and I are still alive and well. Life has been humming along at full speed, and I’m too busy managing each overstuffed day to sit down and reflect on it in lengthy typed paragraphs. But in honor of Thanksgiving, my Good Morning Girls study is having a week of being intentionally grateful. Our first assignment was to make a list of the things, people, and circumstances for which we are thankful. My list turned out to be too long to condense into a hastily written Facebook post. Instead, I thought that I’d clear some dust off the 'ole blog, and share with all of you a few of the things that are evoking joy in my heart right now.

Because I love (and am thankful for!) organization, I have categorized my list of blessings. And for those who, like myself, are appreciative of proper English spelling and grammar, I hope that my consistent use of capitalized and punctuated sentence fragments will overshadow my violation of the complete-sentence rule. Below, enjoy my 2012 Thankful List.

Food: Yummy breakfasts of granola or oatmeal. Eggs, meat, and nuts for protein. Being able to afford Shakeology, the Healthiest Meal of the Day. Homemade baked goodies. Feasting on Thanksgiving. Cookies and pies and other treats. Going out to eat. The freedom and responsibility to choose what to buy and what to cook each day.

Appliances: A high-tech, front-loading washing machine that gets all of our clothes nice and clean. Our dishwasher, which spares me from many hours of dishwashing every day. A refrigerator and freezer to keep our abundance of food fresh.

Warmth: Long, hot showers. The bathroom heater to enhance my long, hot showers. A cozy house to keep out the wind and rain. Quilts and blankets and warm clothing to snuggle in. Heat in my car. Peppermint tea with honey.

Abundance: Having two vehicles so that we’re never “stranded.” Being able to give away clothes that don’t fit right because we don’t need them. Having more food than we need, and never going hungry. Shelves loaded with books, including many translations of the Bible, as well as having the Scripture at our fingertips with smart phone apps and Bible Gateway. Having plenty of technological gadgets to manage our lives and keep us connected.

Senses: Soft, kissable baby cheeks. The way candlelight flickers. Stomping and shuffling through crunchy autumn leaves. The smells of cookies in the oven and cinnamon. The peaceful stillness of the house when everyone else is sleeping.

Activities: My local MOPS group (Mothers of Preschoolers), where fellow moms “in the trenches” of parenting and I can encourage each other over snacks and crafts. Accountability and exhortation from daily Bible Study through my Good Morning Girls group. Being able to put our children in gymnastics, which they love. Visiting friends and inviting them to visit us. Apple picking every September. Living close enough to the beach that we could drive there every week this summer. Swimming and kayaking and snorkeling and sunbathing at the lake.

Freedoms: The privilege of homeschooling my children and choosing their curriculum. The right to own guns for sport and self-defense. Having no fear of persecution for owning a Bible or going to church. The right to participate in choosing our government. Living in a capitalist republic. All of the soldiers who have made sacrifices to obtain and defend the freedoms we enjoy.

Health and fitness: Not having to worry about deadly diseases. Every day that I don’t have a headache. Being healthy enough to workout daily. Getting physically stronger. All of our fitness equipment and many home workout programs. Healthy children who are growing and developing.

Family: The rare but precious times when I see or overhear my children being kind to each other. Going on vacation to the mountains, beach, or on a cruise together. Grandparents who are generous and always willing to babysit. Laughing together. Having no shortage of people to pray for, hug, and visit.

Church: Our church family of dear people who love and encourage us. The ladies who are happy to snuggle Abby in the nursery. Friends who have new babies and like to talk about “mom stuff.” Singing praise songs and dancing for joy. Pastors who explain God’s Word with boldness and clarity. Friends all over the country who are brothers and sisters in Christ.

My husband: Late night laughter over something silly. Date nights at the beach or gun club or our favorite steak house. Snuggling on the couch. His willingness to work hard at multiple jobs to give us a better life. The way all children adore him and teens trust him. His strong sense of right and wrong, and ability to defend his position. His incredible strength. His ability to do crazy flips and other gymnastics. His blue eyes. Backrubs. Being woken up on weekday mornings by his kisses. Chatting and texting during the day. Praying together.

My children: Raising smart, beautiful children whom other people like. Watching them play together. Donny’s intelligence, his interest in all kinds of learning, his newfound love for reading, his mind for engineering, his helpfulness with household chores, his appreciation for organization. Hayden’s affection, his intelligence, his perfect handwriting, his physical strength, his love for God’s Word. Lydia’s verbal skills, her cheerful attitude, the funny things she says, her bedtime “one more hug”s. Abby’s snuggles, her tentative first steps, the way she has blossomed from tiny newborn into tiny person with thoughts and feelings, the way she plays with her siblings, her sweet smile. The way they snuggle up together and say, "Take our picture!"

My job: Being the one to teach my children almost everything they know. Not having a boss to report to or a commute to work. Using my creativity to turn a house into a home. Making life run more smoothly with schedules and organization. Earning extra income through my Beachbody business not because I have to, but because I want to. Helping others to get fit and healthy.

My God: God’s faithfulness to meet with me whenever I seek Him. Finding comfort in His Word. Growing in my feeble understanding of the Holy Spirit. The amazing privilege of participating in God’s work through prayer. Seeing prayers answered. Not having to be perfect, because I can’t be, and knowing that I am still loved. The glorious freedom of being in Christ - freedom from sin, and from restrictive laws. Most of all, Jesus’ death and resurrection for me. Without that, nothing else matters. He is everything!

This fall’s Bible study was on the book of Colossians. When we delved into Chapter 2, this verse stood out to me:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Colossians 2:6-7

I have been blessed with so much in my life. It doesn’t mean that everything is perfect, or that I never have struggles and trials. We can be thankful for good circumstances, but true thankfulness goes beyond circumstances. True thankfulness looks beyond the comforts of earth to the hope of heaven, and rejoices in a God who is good even when circumstances are not. The Apostle Paul writes of his overflowing thankfulness from the dark recesses of prison. He isn’t rejoicing over free cable and hot meals - his thankfulness is all about Christ’s redeeming work on the cross.

Fellow believers, as we reflect on our blessings this Thanksgiving season, we can appreciate all that is good in our lives. But if we are truly rooted and built up in Christ, we won’t just be full of thanks . . . we will overflow!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Exceeding Joy of Rained-out Vacations

My husband went on a business trip, and obligingly let me and my little nursling tag along. My generous sister-in-law was even willing to take the three big kids for four days and continue homeschooling them in my absence. (It's definitely a blessing to have another homeschooling mom in the family!). So on Monday afternoon, Don, Abby and I boarded a plane in Boston and headed to Orlando for some necessary business and some fun in the sun.

Abby was a doll on the plane ride, bouncing happily in the beginning and end, nursing on the way up and down, and sleeping on my lap in the middle. Since I tend to get sick on plane rides myself, I am very thankful for children who tolerate them well. Our flight was delayed about 20 minutes by some bad weather, but we eventually landed, and my ear popped enough to relieve the painful pressure I had experienced in the air. After a long trek and then a wait at baggage claim, we gathered our suitcases and went to pick up our rental car. Although we were staying on Disney property during the conference and a shuttle was provided, I had requested renting a car for a day so that we could spend a few hours at Cocoa Beach, just an hour away from Orlando. Why come all the way to Florida without seeing the ocean? Don had agreed that it would be fun if we rented a cool sporty convertible to cruise to the beach, so we went to the rental counter to pick up our Ford Mustang.

Except, the Mustang wasn't there. They wanted to give us a Sebring instead, but we had paid for a Mustang convertible. After a few minutes, a suitable car was found, and we crammed our suitcases, stroller, and selves into the black sportscar. It was now much later than I had anticipated leaving the airport, and the skies looked ominous, so we weren't sure if driving all the way to the beach was a good idea. We decided to take our luggage to the hotel and make a decision there. We drove with the top up, because it was raining, and Abby - who had been so sweet and wonderful on the plane ride - screamed the entire way. The car had great pick-up, but the headrests were uncomfortable, and the voice commands took ages to respond correctly. At check-in, there was a brief scare where Don thought that we were being charged $500 to add Abby and me to the room (thankfully it was just a misunderstanding!). Then we found our way through the maze of the resort paths and halls to our room, and breathed a small sigh of relief.

In case you haven't guessed by now, we weren't going to the beach. As much as we wanted to, the thought of driving all the way there only to find rain was discouraging. Abby was asleep in her carseat, so we headed out to dinner at the Outback instead. Some good food helped the evening take a turn for the better, and then we returned the rental car and rode the shuttle bus back to our resort. Our room was nothing terribly special, but it was cleaner than some hotels where we have stayed, and it was nice to finally relax.

On Tuesday morning, I had planned to take care of some business computer tasks and get a tan by the pool. God had other plans, though; the internet was painfully slow, and it rained all morning. A mid-day overcast sky gave me just enough time to take a walk with Abby before more rain came. We were here in Florida, the Sunshine State, and the sun was nowhere to be seen. With no beach, unfavorable pool weather, no where to go without stepping outside, and a slow internet connection, the cable TV was starting to look like the highlight of the trip. As I walked along winding paths through the muggy grayness, I wondered what God was trying to say to me. I wasn't happy, but I knew that He is in control. For some reason, He saw fit to send rain.

Back in the hotel room, as I wondered what God was saying, I clearly felt Him tell me to listen. I hadn't bothered to pack a Bible, since I knew it would be accessible on my phone and laptop, but thankfully the Gideons had placed one in my dresser drawer. I opened it up somewhere in the middle to see how the Lord would speak to me through His Word, and here is what I read:

Psalm 43
Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man.
For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.
Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

Isn't it amazing that when we listen, God speaks? There in a simple Psalm, He clearly told me: "I am your health, your beauty, your joy. Sunshine and swimming pools can't give you the joy that I can. When you feel discontent, and things aren't going perfectly, look at ME! I am Light and Truth and the Way. Come to me, because here is not some shallow, sun-kissed happiness, but deep and lasting exceeding joy!"

And by God's grace, on Wednesday, the sun came out. I probably wouldn't have appreciated it so much if it hadn't rained on Monday and Tuesday. And I may never have looked up and wondered and read and remembered that no matter what the weather, exceeding joy is mine in Christ.

Friday, May 18, 2012

How to Have a Happy Birthday

If you want to have a Happy Birthday, decide ahead of time that you will. Attitude is 90 percent of having a happy day.

If your husband happens to be home and agreeable, kick off the celebration by going out - alone! - for an hour on your Birthday Eve. Enjoy the quiet drive to the electronics store. Return the tablet that you bought to replace your deceased laptop, and pick out a shiny new Samsung laptop instead. The tablet is a neat piece of technology, but not very functional for managing a home, school, business, and social life at the same time. Don't waste time mourning the death of your old laptop, even if it did eat your baby's six month pictures and all of your documents when the hard drive crashed. Your blog readers will understand why they'll never see those image-laden posts you had intended to write last week. Take this as a reminder to back up anything important. Right now. (I'm talking to you. Stop reading and go back up your pictures!)

Before heading to bed, change your earrings. If your husband has turned you into a girlie-girl (and he has), he'll want you to have a girl's best friend, and you'll want to look a little extra special for your special day.

On your birthday morning, wake up early - even if you think you could use another hour of sleep. You don't want to waste your birthday lying around in bed. Enjoy your husband's presence, since he is usually at work long before you open your eyes in the morning. Graciously remind him and your children what day it is. Never resent others for not being as date-conscious as you are. If the day matters to you, tell them, smile, and return their birthday hugs.

Check in with your Bible study group on Facebook. Spend some time in the Word, remembering Who gave you this day and every other. Read messages and emails from friends. You just might have a message inviting you to a tour of a local dairy farm on that very day. Since the sun is shining, everyone is healthy, and you have a vehicle for the first time this week, you should go! Plus, you love cows. (Don't you?)

Don't skip your workout; exercise will help keep you happy, and burn off a few of those birthday treat calories too. Shower, eat, and pack up the children for a fun field trip adventure. Meet up with your friend Nancy and her little ones, known by your children as "the family we met in the bikes," because she recognized you from your blog posts and introduced herself when your families were both shopping at WalMart one day. Meet some other homeschooling families, a farmer, and lots of cows.

Learn alongside your children about how the cows are cared for and the milk is processed. Buy plenty of goodies at the farm store - it is your birthday, after all. Rare treats of ice cream, pie, and honey sticks will make the day so much sweeter.

When you arrive home in the afternoon, watch with delight as a monarch butterfly flits arounds your front door. Let the children stay outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. Accept and cherish their offerings of weeds, wildflowers, and a heart-shaped leaf. Then send the older ones to your mother-in-law's. They'll have fun playing with relatives while you enjoy some relative peace and quiet.

Snuggle up with baby in your favorite nursing chair and take a nap together. You won't get much done, you might not even get much rest, but you'll want to savor this moment. Remember doing the same thing half a year ago with your tiny newborn? Before you know it, a few more half-years will go by, and she will be too big for nursing and snuggly afternoon naps in your arms.

If you have time, send a few emails so you can feel like you were productive. Smile that birthday cards and the book you pre-ordered a few weeks ago arrived in the mail. Share your testimony with friends, and reflect on God's grace in your life. Bake the chicken pie (that you bought at the farm) to share with your family when they come home. Finish the day with apple pie, Bible stories, and hugs. Contemplate writing a blog post to recount all of the little blessings of the day. You have had a simple but wonderful birthday, and you are thankful!

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1:17

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Arrows in Hand

Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their opponents in court.

Psalm 127:4-5

With the sudden arrival of spring, the sunshine has gone straight to my head. Even today, a Tuesday, I was still on a bit of a high from the weekend. A visit with a sister in Christ on Friday, fun with friends on Saturday, and a beautiful sunny Sunday of worship and family time were blessings to my spirit.

At Don's suggestion on Sunday afternoon, we all went to the local Fish and Game Club that we recently joined, where everyone but Abby tested out my pink bow, and we only lost a few arrows. Then we trekked over the muddy trail through the woods to see the under-construction 600 yard rifle range. It was a perfect afternoon for a nature walk, with Daddy pushing the girls in the double stroller while I practiced running in my fantastic new shoes. We raced the last stretch back to van, sweaty and thirsty and laughing together. Back at home, we finished off the evening with baths, grilled hamburgers, and gathering around on the floor for Bible storytime. It was a simple but special afternoon, made all the more precious by the rarity of such moments of just relaxing and enjoying our togetherness.

Monday came and went while the temperature rose. Then last night, a sick little Hayden staggered out to the living room. Daddy bathed him while I changed sheets and blankets and wiped up floors. Thankfully, he returned to bed without any more vomiting disruptions, and we all got a good night's sleep (which I am learning to never take for granted). I didn't set my alarm, but still managed to get a workout in this morning while the baby and Hayden were still sleeping.

While I finished stretching, sweet Lydia came to join me, and her attempts to copy my splits made me smile. Then, ever specific in her snack requests, she asked for "some of Daddy's cottage cheese." I didn't think she liked cottage cheese, but she ended up finishing it, and asking for more...and more. Then while I showered, I heard her at the sink and asked, "What are you doing, Lydia?" She was washing the bowl from her snack, of course! I was touched by her capabilities and charming two year old ways, and counted my blessings as I sat down to nurse the now-awake and hungry Miss Abby.

Suddenly, a loud crash rang through the house, freezing both Donny and me in our tracks for a millisecond, until an unusual scream came from Lydia's room. Donny ran in while I unlatched Abby and followed, only to see Donny run back out, also screaming. A five-drawer dresser had fallen, drawers spewed open, and I couldn't see Lydia.

In the next few seconds, I located her distressed face pinned in the wreckage, pushed the dresser back in its upright position, and lifted a drawer off her helpless leg. Donny asked if he should get the phone (I said no) and helped comfort his crying baby sister while I lifted the other sister onto the bed. There was a deep indentation in her shin where the edge of the drawer had been pressed into her. And...that was it. No breaks, no blood. She was crying, but she could stand and wiggle her toes and hug me back as I wrapped my arms around her and thanked God.

I have heard tragic stories of toddlers being killed by falling dressers, so "never climb a bookshelf or a dresser" has always been a rule in our house - a rule repeated one time too few, perhaps. Or we could blame the backlog of unfolded laundry; when she found her bottom drawer empty of the usual dresses and pants, she had opened higher drawers in an attempt to reach them and find something to wear. Whatever the cause, I thank God for Lydia's doll stroller, which had been parked in front of the dresser and seemed to absorb some of the blow from the falling furniture. The metal frame was cracked and mangled, but dear Lydia was safe.

Despite the morning's scare, the day was peaceful. Hayden slept much of the day, as did Abby, lending an usual quietness to our busy house. I sent Donny and Lydia to the backyard with sidewalk chalk, and Donny showed her how to write the letters of the alphabet. I caught up on emails and business things, folded laundry, and read aloud to the boys for school.

And now that the laundry is folded and tucked into closed drawers, beds are covered in fresh clean sheets, and little heads are resting on their pillows, I am left thanking God for each of these precious blessings. They have their share of trouble and tantrums, but they are also all unique and wonderful personalities who make our lives richer and our everyday moments sweeter.

Thank you, Lord, for the privilege of raising arrows for You, and thank you for keeping each one of them safe in Your hand.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My New Fitness Blog!

I mentioned in January that I signed up to be a Team Beachbody Coach. My original motivation was the 25% discount for Coaches on the products that Don and I were already buying, but I am also excited to be able to turn something I enjoy into a profitable business that can help others and bless my family. In addition to my personal Team Beachbody and Shakeology websites, I have started a fitness blog. If you are interested in exercise, health, nutrition, a real mom's workout program, or how to help others get healthy while making money, please come visit me at 1 Fit Girl!

And don't worry, I will still be sharing my reflections on faith, family, and fun things here. Thank you for joining me in my blogging adventures!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Hair Scare of the Pull-Ups Princess

Meet two-and-a-half year old Lydia Faith. She's at an age where everything she says is cute, because she talks in big girl paragraphs with a little girl voice. She doesn't want to be left out of whatever her brothers are doing, whether it's playing outside or watching a Diego DVD (though she seems to have a preference for Blue's Clues and Hide 'em in Your Heart).

She's always hungry (except at mealtime), and usually very specific in her requests. "I am a little hungry. Can I please have a string cheese?" will soon be followed by "Mumma, I am so, so hungry," as she follows Mumma through the house like a puppy. If she sees me at the blender, she'll ask for a smoothie or for some of my Shakeology. She doesn't need naps; in fact, if she crashes on the couch or in the car (or at the table during snack time), she wakes up crying and miserable.

She has been wearing underwear for nine months, but still requires frequent reminders to go to the bathroom (which she has been able to do independently for about 6 months). She asks Daddy to help her do pull-ups and loves going to open gym, where she runs and climbs with gusto. She's both tough but emotional, rough but cuddly, sassy but sweet.

She loves her Mumma, but she adores her Daddy too. She regularly asks him to buy her a pink bike and (like her Mumma!) any other pink thing she can name. She loves to pour out her affection on him: as he was leaving a few days ago, she raised her voice above the household din to tell him, "I kissed your leg because I couldn't reach your cheek!" If she wakes up in the middle of the night, a snuggle from Daddy makes everything okay. Last time this happened, she staggered down the hall around 11pm, rubbing her eyes. Daddy scooped her up, took her to the bathroom, changed her Pull-up, and tucked her back into bed without any conversation. Then, in her bluntly inquisitive two year old way, she suddenly perked up and asked, "What are you guys doing up?"

At dinner a few days ago, when the boys started telling jokes (for some reason, all of us sitting down to dinner together cues them to launch into one of their bad-joke giggle fests) she told her own knock-knock joke. She answered "Who's there?" with "Macaroni penguin."

"Macaroni penguin who?" we asked.

"Macaroni penguin Santa Claus!" she laughed.

Don and I declared her joke to be the best one invented by any of our children (a record which wasn't tough to beat).

She loves to help, but don't even think about taking one of her jobs. ("No, I'm talking to Baby Abby!") She can identify some letters and numbers, inlcuding "L for Lydia!" And if you try to call her anything else, (say, "Lyds" as Hayden calls her, or some sugary pet name), she'll respond, "Don't call me Lyddie! Call me Li-dee-yah." Or perhaps, like today, she will set you straight on her nickname of choice, like when she told Daddy, "I'm not Honey. Mumma is Honey. I'm Sweetie!"

She may only get her shoes on the right feet half the time, but she has a sense of fashion, knowing what socks coordinate with an outfit, and loving her pink cowgirl boots.

Up until recently, she also liked to ask for ponytails. It wasn't my intention to give my no-longer-a-baby-girl a grown-up looking haircut, but I had a little unsolicited help from my favorite (if mischeivous) five year old. Though I certainly wasn't happy with Hayden's hair hacking misdemeanor, I am oh so thankful that he left it long enough for me to even off into a decent looking bob. Add a pretty hairclip, and it almost looks like we did this on purpose.

She's busy and demanding, but she's wonderfully lovable. My Lydia is growing fast, and I'm sure her hair will too.

Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel.
Your hair is like royal tapestry;
the king is held captive by its tresses.

Song of Solomon 7:5

Monday, February 13, 2012

Four Months of (Abigail) Joy

...All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

~ Psalm 139:16b

When Lydia was three months old, I wrote a post about her first quarter-year of life. I intended to do the same thing for Abby, but somehow she is already four months old, and the days are flying by faster than I can record them. Before another quarter year escapes me, I want to jot down some notes about my quickly growing baby girl.

Ten days old

Like her sister, Abby didn't want to be put down for the first two months out of the womb. Then, right around eight weeks, I was finally able to lay her in her activity gym for a few minutes without any fussing. Now she reaches for toys and chews on blankets and other things that come near her mouth. I have never seen a baby make as many spit bubbles as she does; at times, her little mouth is like a fountain of foam. When she isn't bubbling, chewing, or complaining about her wet diaper, she gives out some pretty charming smiles. All of her siblings adore her, and Lydia is the first to sing or talk to Baby Abby when she cries, but she seems to have a special fascination with watching and smiling at Donny. She would let Donny hold her in the early weeks even when she cried for Hayden and Lydia. Certainly, there is no shortage of people to love Abby, and I'm thankful that she gets plenty of attention even if I cannot constantly be the one who gives it to her.

She has hated baths since her very first one in the hospital, so I have limited my attempts to bathe her to about once a week. Whether I gave her a sponge bath, put her in the washpod, or laid her down in the big tub, she screamed through every minute of her early bathing sessions. It wasn't until she was over three months old that she learned to tolerate getting clean, and it still isn't her favorite thing. She also doesn't seem to love being worn as much as my first three babies did. I'm not sure if she doesn't like it because I don't put her in the sling or carrier as often I did with the younger ones, or if I don't wear her as often because she doesn't like it. Thankfully, she'll tolerate an Ergo ride in the grocery store during our weekly excursion, but if she isn't super sleepy, she usually objects to being snuggled up close in a sling.

Abby is also my first baby who actually nurses only when she is hungry. My other babies have nursed for comfort and to fall asleep, but if I try to nurse Abby too soon after her last feeding, she isn't interested and may even protest. She is a night owl, often staying awake until midnight or later, but I can't complain since she sleeps well for the rest of the night. Since she was born, there have only been a handful of nights when I had to actually get out of bed and walk with her in the wee hours of the night. In fact, in late December, she worked up from sleeping a five or six hour stretch in the Pack N Play bassinet to as many as eight or nine hours! Since we rearranged at the beginning of the year and she got a cold, her sleeping has not been quite so undisturbed. We got a rocking stand for her Moses Basket, which fits nicely in our new room, but I usually bring her into our bed at the first sign of nighttime fussing. Most of the time, she settles back to sleep quickly in the early morning hours, and sleeps in late enough that I can get up and complete most if not all of my workout before she opens her eyes around 9 or 10am. The Moses basket has also been great to keep in the bathroom, since Abby will usually lay there content, whether awake or asleep, while I take a shower. She may fuss later in the day, but I am always amazed at how good she is, even from an early age, while the shower is running!

All of our babies have been given several nicknames, and Abigail is no exception. We typically refer to her as Abby, but Abs is common as well. For the first couple weeks, Don called her Peanut and I called her Sweetness. Donny called her Abby Apple because her tiny newborn head was the size of an apple!

Then I started calling her my Lovebug, and the name has evolved to include variations like Lovebuggy and LoveyBug. When she fusses, we call her Crabby Abby. And because Don and I spend are so familiar with Beachbody workouts, we occasionally give her fitness nicknames like HipHop Abs, Abra-gnome (named after the P90X2 Abrinome exercise), or my personal favorite, Ab Ripper X. Given her Ceserean birth, I think Ab Ripper is a very fitting name! Of course, she has also been called Lydia, Lyddie Bitty, or Lyds on (significantly) more than one occasion. I suggested early on that we recover from our confusion by calling her Li...ttle Abby. Whatever name we give her, it truly is a joy to now have two sweet little girls in our family!

The 5 pound, 9 ounce newborn who was lost in her car seat is now over 12 pounds and holds her head up with pride. In the last couple weeks, she has started to laugh when tickled - or sometimes, just when we talk to her. I love her when she laughs at me or Daddy with her big gummy grin. She isn't always happy, but her crying usually means that she is wet, tired, or possibly hungry, and some loving attention can generally remedy the situation. I am looking forward to watching her personality unfold as she grows, but for now, I am happy to enjoy every smile and coo of the beautiful Abigail Joy.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Crazy Happy Siblings

I love these little people!
I am so blessed to bask in their smiles every day.

He will yet fill your mouth with laughter
and your lips with shouts of joy.

~ Job 8:21

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

When Daddy Clears the Land

It's late afternoon, and it's quiet in the house. I am alone with a happily nursing baby. The older three children are outside with Daddy while he does some yard work before the sun goes down. Suddenly, the door bursts open, and the loud wails of an unhappy seven year old echo down the hall. I assume some minor injury has brought about this obvious over-reaction, or perhaps the typical "so-and-so took my such-and-such." But no, this time Donny is in distress for a different reason.

"Daddy is cutting down my favorite tree!" he cries. "MAKE HIM STOP!"

The peace of the afternoon is shattered. I spend the next half hour attempting to calm, console, and explain the situation to my eldest child. Donny has a tendency to, well, over-react, and we generally try to discourage such unnecessary drama. At the same time, I don't want to brush off his concerns entirely. Several months ago, when a logging company came to clear the land next to our house, he had a similar day of distress over the felling of the trees. Though that is now forgotten, Daddy taking the chainsaw to a young oak in the yard has brought the tears rushing back.

I attempt to explain that Daddy surely had a reason for cutting down the small sapling; we have to trust him. Even though Donny liked it, it wasn't his tree. It wasn't his choice. Daddy was trying to clear the land completely, and this oak was not part of his plans. We don't plan to live in this house forever, so eventually, we would be leaving it behind anyway. And really, truly, this is not such a big deal. It's just a tree.

As I speak, I can't help but see how my advice applies to my own life. How often do I burst into literal or figurative tears over something that, in the grand scheme of things, really is trivial? A screaming baby, an angry spouse, noisy children who refuse to listen, a throbbing headache, my inability to conquer the laundry mountain - these moments can be for me what the chainsaw was to Donny. Compared to someone else's problem, they are nothing. But in the dusk of the moment, I want to cry out, "Make it stop!"

Eventually, Daddy comes in, brushes the wood dust off his shirt, and sits down on the couch beside the now-calm boy. He explains why he cut down the small tree. In vivid strokes, he paints a picture of the yard he wants to create - a place of plush grass where the children can run and jump and play ball. To achieve the dream, the tree had to be sacrificed.

Again, my heart is stirred with empathy. What dreams does my Father have for me that I am too small and foolish to understand? All my crying and complaining over my petty sorrows is so fruitless, and only blocks me from seeing what He is doing in my life. Sometimes to achieve it, pain must come. Things must die. Sin must be uprooted. And even if the problem seems miniscule to everyone else, it hurts. Yet my Father has a beautiful plan, if only I can look past the sticks and stumps of sorrow to see it.

And so I pray that when the trials of life are crashing around me, and my own selfish sorrows threaten to overwhelm, may I curl up in the arms of my loving Father, and trust that He will work it out for good. Whether my difficulties are real or imagined, something better is coming. My Daddy loves me, and I trust that He knows best.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
~ 2 Corinthians 4:17

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pink Pants, Purple Pencils, and Who I Am in Christ

I've been having a very minor identity crisis lately. Blame it on my abrupt attack on nearly every area of life, but my generally introspective, perfectionistic self is in hyper self-examination mode right now. My hair, my clothes, my priorities, my diet, my time management, my spiritual life, my habits, my dresser name it, and I'm thinking about how it is, how to make it better, and how it makes me who I am.

Strangely, we tend to define ourselves by things that can change: our looks, our hobbies, our preferences. I find it interesting to realize how mine have evolved through the years. Ten years ago, I had just rebuilt my wardrobe of flare leg jeans after a few years of wearing gigantic (and by most standards, ridiculous looking) wide-leg jeans that dragged on the ground. In the past few years, I have been wearing skirts pretty much all the time. In recent months, I discovered yoga pants, and now I don't want to wear anything else. (My mom will tell you that I have always been this loyal to my own fashion and hairstyle trends...just ask about the turtlenecks of 5th and 6th grade!)

5th grade, year of turtlenecks and big hair bows

I grew up being the girl who liked blue while my little sister had everything pink. In my teen years, I realized that I liked green just as much, and blue and green together were the best. This Crayola-combination is still one of my favorites, but recently, I've been a little obsessed with pink. Having a baby girl or two certainly helped, as did the gift from my husband of a distinctly girly pink-and-black gun. Then I requested a pink and black tool set, in hopes that Don would not steal (and consequently lose) my tools. (I was totally wrong about that, by the way - he always uses my tools now, because they come in such a handy and convenient tool case. He does put them back though!) Since then, I have acquired a bright pink camera, blow dryer, bow and arrow, tote bag, and bathrobe for my expanding collection of fun and feminine items. Oh, and I have two pairs of pink yoga pants!

I could go on and on about how my quirks have changed to fit my husband's preferences and my own evolving life. Ten years ago I wouldn't touch red meat; now our favorite place to go is the Longhorn Steakhouse for the Flo's Filet. I ate a bowl of Breyer's every night until last summer, when I got hooked on Shakeology and haven't bought ice cream since. I thought guns were scary; now my husband suggests a date to the gun show and I respond with enthusiasm. I thought exercise was taking the stairs instead of the elevator; now I do hour-long workouts and lift heavy weights. I loved snuggling other people's babies. Now I still love babies, but I'm usually too busy holding my own to pick up any others.

This isn't my gun...not yet, anyway. ;)
I was scoping out pink weapons at the gun show,
and this AR was pretty cute!

It is tempting to find my unique self-worth as a girl who loves pink (or green, or blue), and skirts (or jeans, or turtlenecks), and babies (yours, mine, or the unknown orphans in a foreign country). But I thank God that though the world sees only these external things, they are not what really count. Who am I to the Lord Jesus? He doesn't put me in categories like "homeschool mama," "wife who works out," or "pink girl." My value is not in my possessions or preferences or even my performance. It's in Him.

Studying Ephesians has been really helpful with understanding this concept. I have a color-coded system (yes, another quirk) for how I underline verses in my (pink) Bible, and purple is the color for verses that answer the question, "Who am I in Christ?" Ephesians 1 is chock full of purple verses. I recommend that you read this whole passage, because if you are a believer, it applies to you too:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory.

In Christ, I am chosen - predestined to be one of His own since before the foundation of the world. In Christ, I am forgiven - every ugly thought and word and deed is wiped clean. I was a slave to sin, but I am redeemed by His blood. I am not alone; I am adopted into His forever family. And in Christ, I have confidence, because I am sealed with the Holy Spirit.

As fun as they may be, my pink pants do not make me special. I am special to God because He chose me to be His own. My true identity lies not in the colors of my wardrobe, but in the purple-lined verses that remind me: I can only find my true worth, satisfaction, and peace in the perfect love and saving work of Christ Jesus.

My favorite pink things

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bass Pro Shops and More to Come

...I will build you with stones of turquoise,
your foundations with sapphires.
I will make your battlements of rubies,
your gates of sparkling jewels,
and all your walls of precious stones.
All your sons will be taught by the LORD,
and great will be your children’s peace.
In righteousness you will be established:
Tyranny will be far from you;
you will have nothing to fear.
Terror will be far removed;
it will not come near you.

Isaiah 54:11-14

It was a good weekend. A long ride on snowy roads with new tires and functional brakes. A trip to a new store that dazzled us with interesting items and decor. Children sleeping soundly in their beds. A great meal that I didn't have to cook or clean up, or (thanks to a gift card) even pay for.

Intermixed in the adventures were many potential moments for conflict and distress. Frigid weather. Potty trips with fussy babies in tow. Being separated in the store with no working cell phone. Hungry children who still hadn't eaten dinner at bedtime. A waitress giving Donny's milk to Hayden - and the ensuing dash to find Benadryl at the closest convenience store. Sawing open the Benedryl liquid capsule with a Swiss Army knife. Huddling around a small table at Dunkin Donuts for a dinner of bagels instead of the family dining experience we had planned. Attempting to get to church on time. Rescheduling the dining experience only to have it interrupted by a crying baby. Baby crying all afternoon.

But overall, I am counting this a great weekend. As we cruised along the quiet, snow-covered highway, Don and I actually got to talk without being interrupted, distracted, or interrupted again. We soaked up the delights of Bass Pro Shops in Foxboro, MA as gleefully as our children did. We came home with presents and pictures and memories. And I fell in love even more with the husband and father who handled the medical emergencies and interrupted meals and continual demands of four little people with grace, calmness, and self-control.

What really amazes me is that every good thing on this earth - cute camo shirts, singing children, smiling babies, tasty bowls of guacamole, digital cameras, new strollers, helpful husbands, great conversations, answered prayers - they are just a shadow of what is to come. God has so much in store for us. Heaven is going to be amazing in a way that puts our modern over-use of the word to shame.

When we walked into Bass Pro Shops for the first time, it was overwhelming just to look around - in every direction there was something to see. Bears and foxes on the walls. A moose in front of us. Fish and turtles in the pond. Endless racks of camo gear. Giant boats and an enormous whale (which the boys insisted was probably made of cement) suspended from the ceiling. Knotty pine and spotlights everywhere.

Under the whale

Will we win this? Not likely!

Donny took this one:

But heaven is going to be made not of pine and fur, but of gold and jewels! No one will cry, no one will go hungry, no one will be cold, and no one will be allergic to milk. Like children in a candy store (oh yes, they had lots of candy at Bass Pro Shops too!), we will be awestruck and delighted in a way that our feeble human minds cannot comprehend. I can't wait.

I am so thankful for these little snippets of family fun that we can piece together into a collection of sweet memories. I am thankful for healthy children and a wonderful husband to raise them along with me. I am thankful for peaceful sleep whenever and wherever we find it. But most of all, I am thankful for the hope that there is so much more than this. Looking past the skyline, I can't see clearly, but I know there is something big and beautiful and infinitely beyond description or definition. We will have nothing to fear; there will just be peace. And it will be great.

(View out the window)